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Prosecutors drop charges against Adnan Syed after DNA testing

Prosecutors drop charges against Adnan Syed after DNA testing
Prosecutors drop charges against Adnan Syed after DNA testing 03:35

BALTIMORE -- Baltimore prosecutors on Tuesday dropped the case against Adnan Syed after new DNA testing results excluded him from evidence in the murder of his ex-girlfriend. 

Syed, 41, was previously sentenced to life after he was convicted for the 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee. The case first received national attention in 2014 the hit podcast "Serial" raised questions about the prosecution.

He served more than 20 years in prison before his murder conviction was vacated last month. 

Baltimore City State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby approved additional forensic testing in Syed's case in March. 

Baltimore prosecutors on Tuesday dropped the case against Adnan Syed 04:56

At a press conference Tuesday, Mosby said a forensic method called touch DNA, which analyzes skin cells left at the scene of a crime, was used on items that had never been tested before. Those items included a skirt, pantyhose, jacket and shoes belonging to Lee. 

Mosby said there was a "DNA mixture" of multiple contributors found on both of Lee's shoes, but that Syed was not found to be among them. An investigation is ongoing into Lee's death. 

During a virtual press briefing, Syed's attorney, Erica Suter, an assistant public defender and the director of the University of Baltimore Innocence Project Clinic, said Syed and his loved ones have been waiting for this day "for 23 long years."

"The results of the DNA testing exclude Adnan and confirm what Adnan and his supporters have always known: Adnan Syed is innocent," she said.

Syed's brother Yusuf told WJZ his family is feeling very happy and blessed after the news. He said Syed is happy, but "it's hard for him to kind of process, it's hard for all of us."

Suter extended her sympathies to Lee's family.

"We join in the hope that an investigation will bring them real answers and a sense of closure," she said.

Syed was 17 years old and a senior at Woodlawn High School in 1999 when he was charged in Lee's death. He was convicted of the crime in 2000. 

Lee disappeared on Jan. 13, 1999. Several weeks later, her body was found in Leakin Park. An autopsy report stated she had died from manual strangulation.  

Since the conviction, Syed has maintained that he is innocent.

Multiple sources told WJZ earlier this month that prosecutors are narrowing in on another suspect in the case.

Lee's brother, Young, filed a notice of appeal on Sept. 28. In a filing last week, Attorney General Brian Frosh and Assistant Attorney General Carrie Williams joined Lee in saying Syed's case should be paused until the appeal is heard. The appeal remains pending.

Suter said Syed's team will "wait to see whatever action the Court of Special Appeals believes is appropriate."

Steve Kelly, the Lee family's attorney, claims the prosecutors failed to communicate their decision to drop the charges to them and that Mosby robbed the family "of answers and a voice." 

"The family received no notice and their attorney was offered no opportunity to be present at the proceeding," Sharp said. "By rushing to dismiss criminal charges, the State's Attorney's Office sought to silence Hae Min Lee's family and to prevent the family and the public from understanding why the State so abruptly changed its position of more than 20 years." 

Mosby said she personally reached out Tuesday morning to Lee's family and attorney on her decision to dismiss the case, but that she didn't hear back from them. 

"Equally heartbreaking is the pain and the sacrifice and the trauma that has been imposed not just on [Lee's] family, but Adnan and his family, who together spent 23 years in prison for crime as a result of a wrongful conviction," she said. 

The attorney general's office declined a request for comment from WJZ. 

Rabia Chaudry, a family friend and prominent advocate of Syed's, said her prayers for Adnan have been mostly granted, but that she seeks justice for Lee. 

"My final prayer is that the killer is soon arrested and I believe with my entire heart that this will happen," she said in a statement. "Finally I want to say to Adnan that I love you little brother, and I can't wait for the world to get to know you. You deserve everything good in this life and the next."

As for Syed, Suter said he plans to continue his education after taking part in a Georgetown University program for incarcerated students.

"He was only 17 when he was incarcerated. He was accepted to college, he was really at the precipice of his young life," she said. "And I think he wants to be able to complete that and earn his degree."

Eventually, he would like to earn his law degree, she said.

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